In the epilogue of his book The Anarchy, William Dalrymple writes:

The East India Company has, thankfully, no exact modern equivalent. Walmart, which is the world’s largest corporation in revenue terms, does not number among its assets a fleet of nuclear submarines; neither Facebook nor Shell possess regiments of infantry. Yet the East India Company – the first great multinational corporation, and the first to run amok – was the ultimate model and prototype for many of today’s joint stock corporations. 


Four hundred and twenty years after its founding, the story of the East India Company has never been more current.” [1]

I do not think the modern day conquistador needs submarines or infantry. They have algorithms, apply gamification, build retention hacks, apply consumer psychology, and train AI models on our private data. This data is freely given by us under the guise of free service in return. Each of us shares our data without hinderance and all the time. I do it while posting this on this social media platform. You do it while reading it.

In the book, the author writes about the Anarchy within the Mughal Empire that allowed the EIC (a fledging corporation) their first foothold in India. That foothold was backed by EIC’s use of (then) modern cavalry and weaponry techniques. It took the Indian kings many decades to upgrade themselves. By then, it was too late.

Today, Governments across the world are at a similar disadvantage and might also take decades to upgrade themselves. They are trying to force-fit century-old Telephone, Telegraph, and Postal laws to make sense of and regulate the titans of Tech. For example, India’s Telegraph Laws were established in 1885 (Eighteen Eighty Five) [2].

Germany wants employers to turn off work-email outside of office hours. The middle-east disallows VoIP. China tries to keep their local Titans on a tight leash at home, but gives them explosive tools to run amock overseas; we wonder what happens when these tools are used within their borders in future. Italy allows for “ad hoc agreements” between the government and the service providers. Under the terms of these ad hoc agreements — a worrying prospect that erodes internet users’ privacy — a provider could be required to hand over control of its network to an intelligence agency in the interests of national security [2]

These large corporations’ talk of free speech is probably only in the context of them having the freedom to re-bundle it a commercially viable offering.

This article is not about me singling out a specific industry (heck, I’m a techie myself) or to present a solution (I’m woefully inexperienced to do so). Rather, I found a curious parallel between the Mughals and present-day governments on the one hand, vs. EIC and the modern Tech behemoths (wherein both are Large Corporate bodies only interested in maximising shareholder value) and wanted to pen some thoughts.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Governments aren’t always right. But, in this struggle it is interesting to note that, even four hundred years later, Governments are still trying to play catch-up to tools and machinations implemented by corporations.

[1] The Anarchy, by William Dalrymple. Bloomsbury Book